JUL 09, 2017 02:13 PM PDT

How Lightning Bugs Get Their Glow On

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

As summer heats up, you've probably noticed more fireflies in your backyard. These creatures are most visible at the dusk twilight hours with their characteristic bursts of yellow flashing lights. But how does an animal create light?

The process is known as bioluminescence and it refers to chemical reactions within the organism that produce light. The reaction requires two chemicals: luciferin (the substrate) and either luciferase or a photoprotein (the catalyst). Luciferin is the protein responsible for the glow, and luciferase is the enzyme that makes the glow visible. The different hues of the glow - yellow in fireflies, and green in lanternfish - come from the chemical arrangement of luciferin.

Bioluminescent organisms are most abundant in the ocean, and they include some fish, jellies, and dinoflagellates. On land, bioluminescent organisms are limited to lightning bugs and fungi.

In some cases, the bioluminescent trait acts as a defensive adaptation to confuse attackers. But the trait can also be an offensive strategy to lure in preys. Still, some animals use their glow as a reproduction strategy. For example, when you see a firefly glow, it's usually a male bug signaling to females that they're interested.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
SEP 13, 2018
Videos
SEP 13, 2018
Antibiotics Are Still Being Over-Prescribed by Some Health Facilities
The opioid abuse problem continues unabated, despite public health efforts to curb the use of narcotic painkillers that can cause dependence and push patie...
SEP 24, 2018
Plants & Animals
SEP 24, 2018
Here's Why Goat Eyes Look Weird
Taking a closer look at a goat’s eyeball, you might notice that their pupils are elongated from side-to-side rather than round like a human’s;...
OCT 03, 2018
Videos
OCT 03, 2018
Understanding Brain Aneurysms
A brain aneurysm is a medical emergency, but many patients don’t understand much about them. First, it’s not the same a clot. An aneurysm is wh...
OCT 05, 2018
Videos
OCT 05, 2018
What is Site-directed Mutagenesis?
Site-directed mutagenesis is a common tool in the molecular laboratory. But someone had to pioneer it first....
OCT 07, 2018
Videos
OCT 07, 2018
Certain Foods Encourage a Gut Microbe, and Colon Cancer
Researchers reveal more evidence that refined grains and sugars and processed meats are bad for colon health....
OCT 10, 2018
Videos
OCT 10, 2018
Are Personality Tests Scientifically Accurate?
Personality tests like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory and others are used to find out what a person is like, internally. They measure reac...
Loading Comments...